As a young gay man steeped in the evangelical subculture, Patrick Chapman grew up feeling deeply conflicted about his sexual orientation. As so many individuals in his situation do, he poured much of his time and energy (and a decade of his life) into attempting to become heterosexual, first through pastoral counseling and later through an ex-gay ministry. And as with most who pursue that path, he was forced to rethink the assumptions he had been taught when it became apparent that the change he was promised was never going to happen.
Although Dr. Chapman’s life experiences are not the primary focus of Thou Shalt Not Love: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays, his firsthand understanding of ex-gay ministries – and the evangelical subculture that spawned them – helps to make his book a vital resource for anybody hoping to better understand why the gay and evangelical communities are so sharply at odds, and why the term “gay Christian” isn’t the oxymoron that so many evangelicals insist it must be.
Chapman briefly shares about his experiences growing up in the evangelical church before launching into an analysis of the evangelical worldview, and how biblical literalism has led many Christians to view science with skepticism and hostility. The spectrum of thought within evangelicalism is much broader than it sometimes appears from the outside, and Chapman does take time to highlight evangelical leaders like Tony Campolo and Philip Yancey who take a softer stance when it comes to dealing with gays and other sexual minorities.
Even so, some evangelicals may feel overlooked by Chapman’s focus on the more conservative strains of biblical literalism in this section of the book. Given that nearly all of the most vocal anti-gay activists come from the schools of thought that Chapman does address, however, it’s understandable that he does not sidetrack the book with a more comprehensive survey of evangelicalism. It’s also worth pointing out how even many moderate evangelicals become strict literalists when it comes to this one particular issue.
Chapman’s expertise as an anthropologist comes into play in the chapters that follow as he examines the cultural contexts of the various biblical passages used to condemn same-sex relationships, and again as he looks at how cultures around the world have addressed the issue of homosexuality throughout history. He also surveys the latest scientific studies into the biological causes of homosexuality before turning back to address some of the more common assertions put forward by anti-gay activists, including their own use (and misuse) of the available research.
In the end, no one book is ever going to represent the final word on an issue as heated and divisive as this one. But Chapman’s thorough research and dispassionate tone raise the bar for future authors (evangelical or otherwise) wishing to address this subject.